Fresh Starts

Strapped for cash, struggling to make ends meet as the year winds down, the time had come to sacrifice some of my extraneous toys. I finally bid adieu to an old friend, and sold my juicer. The behemoth had flown with me from Connecticut to California made the drive from Oakland to Austin, surviving both treacherous journeys without so much as a scratch. Don’t get me wrong; I loved the masticating monster. It just never found a stable place in my daily routine. Peering out from the cabinet periodically, it would catch my eye as the light glinted off its stainless steel facade, only to return to the darkness untouched.

It deserved better. A machine should be used, not just stored. Helping to kick-start a neighbor’s newfound fervor for juicing, it’s a relief to see the old gal find a loving new home, as hard as it is to let go. Before that fateful day, we gave it one last whirl, squeezing the last drops of joy from our time together.

Releasing a golden wave of liquid sunshine into my glass, tropical notes of pineapple spiked with the bright acidity of fresh lemon flowed freely in this last hurrah. Naturally sweet without any sugar, the blend was tart, tangy, bright and bold. It glistened with vitality, fresh and invigorating. That would be enough for a morning wake up call, but to celebrate the occasion, a splash of sparkling white wine felt like an appropriate final touch.

As I raise this glass, to friendship and new beginnings, my heart swells with hope for the future. May 2021 be better for all of us.

Cheers!

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Rose Gold Standard

Restless nights turn into bleary-eyed mornings, turn into days of drudgery and afternoon lulls. Better double up on the coffee just to keep going, right? It’s a satisfying quick fix with reliable results, but a hasty solution that often comes back to haunt as nighttime drags on. Sleep becomes more elusive, more coffee is needed to fill the gaps, and so the vicious cycle deepens, like the cavernous craters beneath furrowed brows and tired eyes.

Don’t get me wrong; I love caffeine, but it’s clear from our long, tumultuous relationship that it does not love me back. Though I’d never contemplate relinquishing my morning shot of espresso, it’s the second and third pull that get me into trouble. I’ll start shaking like a leaf long before my brain gets the message to wake up, which only arrives when I turn in for bed.

Nothing can replace a full, proper night’s rest, but that’s at least more feasible when caffeine isn’t interfering with normal sleep cycles.

Basic hydration can do wonders for mood regulation and overall health, so just drinking enough throughout the day goes a long way. That’s why I’m drinking more turmeric lattes, served over almost equal parts ice while the summer heat is on, please.

We all know that turmeric is a powerful anti-inflammatory and immune-boosting free agent, but it takes a team to win at this daily game. Coconut milk brings medium-chain triglycerides (MCTs) to the playing field, which are easily digested as an immediate source of energy. Maple syrup on the other hand, offers a slower burn than processed white sugar, to prevent a deleterious crash later on. Spices like ginger and black pepper are simply invigorating flavors, like lemon juice, which can brighten any recipe.

Rosewater, delicate flower that it is, may seem like an inauspicious recruit, just like the tart and tangy hibiscus blossoms included in the brew. Sustained energy is all about playing the field, and these two make up a killer defense. We’re talking antioxidants galore which may lower blood pressure and help regulate glucose. Though they failed to turn my drink a blushing shade of Millennial pink, their subtly sweet flavors reinforce the meme-worthy title.

Most importantly, no matter how much (or how little) uninterrupted sleep you enjoyed last night, this canary-yellow latte is downright delicious. The subtle, natural energy boost is just an extra little win.

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Squeeze the Day

Limoncello is not any old fruit liqueur; it’s straight-up sunshine in a bottle. Liquid gold, simultaneously tart, tangy, smooth, and sweet, is so much more than the sum of its parts. Three simple, common ingredients are all you need, aside from the intangible addition of time. More patience is needed than anything else, as the infusion grows stronger, more fragrant, more colorful by the day. Though the temptation may feel irresistible at times, summon all your willpower to keep a lid on it, literally.

Intense citrus flavor allows this elixir to mix beautifully with other spirits or sparkling beverages without ever risking dilution. Traditionally enjoyed as a digestif, a simple shot can be equally restorative, waking up the senses with such a boldly fragrant, vivacious lemon essence.

Needless to say, every ingredient counts when so few make the cut. Do not skimp on lesser citrus especially, as none can match the delicate nuances and almost jammy sweetness of Meyer lemons, which come without the harsh acidity of conventional varieties. Likewise, this is the time to break out the good stuff from your secret stash at the back of the liquor cabinet. It’s impossible to end up with unpalatable Limoncello, truth be told, but it’s just as effortless to create something truly unparalleled in quality.

Though the wait time may seem daunting, don’t let that scare you off. The results are worth any delayed gratification, as no store-bought variety will ever taste as fresh.

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You Brew You

Bleary-eyed and sleep-deprived, I stumble into the kitchen and blindly rummage around for sustenance. Sheer muscle memory propels me forward before my brain has fully activated, recharged and ready to begin processing a new day. Coffee is the switch that flips it on, that starts the cycle anew, for me and so many millions, if not billions of other sleepyheads across the globe. How you choose to brew says a lot of about culture, economics, habits, and personal taste, but more attention is paid to the beans than the actual mechanics of making a cuppa. Respectably so, for all their natural nuances, slick brands and designer packages notwithstanding; the bean alone is a weighty decision to contemplate when the need for caffeine overrules all other sensible demands.

Let’s take a step back for a moment to appreciate the method of making coffee itself. Do you use an electric, automatic drip coffee maker like most Americans? One of those ubiquitous plastic models always found in attendance at moving sales year round? Maybe you have more than one, because it never hurts to have a backup. Cheap, easy, accessible, reliable; I’m there with you, friends. There’s nothing wrong with the effortless instant gratification of push-button service, delivering a hot cup of coffee on demand, no questions asked.

When it comes to manual brewing methods, you take control back into your hands, quite literally.

Pour Over (Chemex, Hario V60, Kalita Wave, Clever): Functioning almost exactly like a standard drip machine without the buttons or whistles, there are a number of popular variations on the concept but it all boils down to pouring hot water over grounds, slowly allowing the brewed liquid to run down into a waiting glass below. It takes patience and a steady hand, but no real skill since gravity does all the hard work. Use a medium grind to extract the brighter, lighter, more floral flavor notes without any hint of bitterness. Different models have their own uniquely patterned ridges built in, which will each affect the rate of drainage differently and produce surprisingly distinctive results. Which is “best” is just a matter of preference, so experiment a bit to find what tastes just right to your palate.

Plunger (French Press, AeroPress): Most people are familiar with the French press due to it’s accessibility and wide availability. Simply add grounds, water, steep, and plunge. There are no disposable filters to trifle with and no waste as a result. Detractors grouse about gritty brews or long steeping times, but a properly sealed, well-built device shouldn’t give you any trouble. Because the beans have full contact with the hot water for the entire time, this approach extracts the full gamut of flavors locked within, as well as the most antioxidants and caffeine. Use a coarse ground to enjoy the most robust results in a traditional French press, but fine for an AeroPress, which does use filters to catch any residual sediment.

Cupping Brewer (Rattleware): Uncommon outside of serious barista circles, it doesn’t get much simpler in concept, or more complex in flavor. Grounds and water combine for extended brew times, 10 minutes and beyond, to get every element of the bean to come forward. Grounds float toward the surface, to be skimmed off with a spoon before sipping. Though impractical for multiple servings, it’s an ideal way to truly appreciate a fresh brew with zero waste. Use a very coarse grind and be prepared to stop drinking before you reach the bottom, since most will settle and remain there. It’s impossible to avoid consuming at least some of the sediment, so this stuff is like rocket fuel.

There’s also the stove top moka pot, although I’d argue that this begins to skew into a more hands-off realm where the device does most of the heavy lifting. In fact, there are electric versions available, which always pull in top recommendations from experts, so I don’t trifle with the low tech toys. Siphons, using vacuum pressure to force hot water through coffee grounds, could also fall under this distinction, but they’re more of a novelty than realistic appliance for the average home brewer. Plus, the cost for entry is rather steep- No pun intended.

Across the board, general guidelines for success start with using 60 grams of coffee for every 1 quart of water (yes, you really should weigh it!) and water heated to 195 – 205 degrees Fahrenheit, ideally in a goose neck kettle for easy maneuvering.

How do you do your brew? There’s no one perfect approach, which is a true gift for coffee lovers. Go outside your comfort zone and try something new. You may just discover a whole new world of flavors locked within the same beans you already love, and only thought you knew.

 

Head in the Clouds

Foam is just one important feature that sets espresso drinks apart from one another, but Starbucks has turned it into the feature, filling half of each plastic cup with the stuff for their new Cloud Macchiato. Literally translated as “stained coffee,” a standard caffè macchiato is much like a latte in basic composition, but wholly unique in assembly. Starting with a base of steamed milk, a shot of espresso marks the spot, and a layer of foam seals the deal. Since more is always better by the American Standard, we simply took that finale to all new heights, turning it into a veritable meringue island on a thimbleful of brown liquid.

Maddeningly, while a regular macchiato can be made vegan with any non-dairy milk, the cloud cannot. Whether served hot or over ice, with cinnamon or caramel, egg whites are the secret ingredient that give this frothy crown its loft.

Here’s the silver lining to this cloud: It’s really a snap to make at home.

Fluffy, ethereal spoonfuls of fine bubbles cloud chilled glasses thanks to everyone’s favorite bean brine. That’s right: Aquafaba strikes again! Lightly beaten before reaching soft peaks, it holds its shape admirably without casting an overtly beany fog over the beverage. Luxuriously velvety yet far lighter in texture than the more typical whipped cream, the results are arguably more satisfying than a slushy old frappuccino and considerably healthier, too.

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